Everton will be the last Premier League team to get their FA Cup campaign up and running on Monday evening, but will be in the strange position of knowing the prize should they see off Cheltenham Town – an away trip to either Bolton Wanderers or Sunderland. But for David Moyes, as ever, the prize is much greater than that.
In more than a decade at Goodison Park there is little left that the manager could feasibly achieve that he has not already. Establishing Everton as a top six team, qualifying for the Champions League, reaching the latter stages, indeed, the final, of the FA Cup, have all been done. Winning the league outright will remain out of reach as long as the financial behemoths exist, but winning a trophy is something the manager not only wants, but could conceivably do.
Everton’s first attempt to win a trophy this season ended with a whimper at Elland Road, the League Cup slipping from the horizon as Everton failed to turn up against Championship opposition in Leeds United. It was an outcome that has all-too-often occurred under Moyes, dating back to 2002/03 when Shrewsbury Town knocked Everton out of the FA Cup to a more recent defeat against then-Championship Reading, the round after Everton staged a stunning penalty shootout victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, including a spectacular last minute of extra time equalising free-kick from Leighton Baines.
The draw for this year’s FA Cup has not been cruel nor kind to Everton. The visit to Cheltenham is potentially tricky but Everton, fifth in the Premier League, should overcome the hosts, fourth in League Two or not. And then would be either Championship Bolton or inconsistent Sunderland, the former another match that the Premier League high-fliers should have little problem getting through, the latter a replay of one of last season’s most memorable encounters in the same competition.
Everton proved last season they can reach the latter stages of the tournament if they set their minds to it. It appeared the chance had gone when Sunderland got a 1-1 draw at Goodison, but Everton were immense in the replay at the Stadium of Light. They started well against Liverpool in the Wembley semi-final and then shrunk after half-time, eventually falling to a defeat against their local rivals that was tough to take. It was another in the long list of cup disappointments under Moyes.
The Cheltenham fixtures provides a chance to put right last season’s regrets, although in truth that cannot happen until Moyes oversees a successful cup run. For all the plaudits that have come the way of Moyes’ impressive side so far this season, a tangible reward would be worth so much more. But with a long way to go between now and Wembley in May, the focus has to be firmly on Cheltenham, not any more glamorous occasion that may follow in the weeks and months. Otherwise, the list of disappointments will have yet another new entry on it.
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